Published March 23, 2023

Zellers opens a dozen stores in Canada amid wave of nostalgia and price sensitivity

The company isn't ruling out the potential for stand-alone locations

By Brett Bundale

Canadian retail chain Zellers marked its official comeback on Thursday, opening a dozen stores in Ontario and Alberta and launching a new website.

The return of the discount department store comes amid a wave of nostalgia for the brand and growing demand for affordable goods as inflation pushes up the cost of living. 

The company plans to open 25 locations across Canada within Hudson's Bay department stores, Hudson’s Bay Co. spokeswoman Tiffany Bourré said.

The additional store openings will be phased in over time, and the retailer isn't ruling out the potential for stand-alone locations, she said. 

The 10,000-square-foot Zellers stores feature an assortment of products, including clothing, toys and home and living items, under the company's in-house brand name Anko.

The private-label products are exclusive to Zellers within Canada, with no crossover between Hudson's Bay and Zellers stores, Bourré said. 

Gillian Alleyne stopped into the Zellers at the Hudson's Bay at Scarborough Town Centre in Toronto during her lunch hour on Thursday. 

"I work close to here and I came in to see the prices and the quality of the products," she said in an interview. "It looks a little more like a high-end Zellers compared to what I remember. It's appealing to the eye."

Although she went to Zellers to browse, Alleyne said the products looked "enticing" and made her want to open her wallet.

""It makes me want to spend a little more money than I expected," she said. 

The products and displays look like a blend between Ikea and Walmart, Alleyne said.

"It looks nice but the prices are still reasonable," she said. "Bath mats are about $10. It's really affordable."

The company has also launched a Zellers e-commerce website.

All items both online and in-stores feature so-called rounded pricing, so for example $5 rather than $4.99 or $5.49.

It's about offering customers a "simplified and easy" shopping experience with reasonable prices for quality goods, Bourré said. 

The relaunch of Zellers comes a decade after it closed most of its locations. 

It also comes at a time when Canadians are seeking relief from the highest inflation in nearly 40 years, offering more competition in a discount market largely dominated by Walmart, Giant Tiger and Dollarama. 

The resurrection of the retailer also taps into the nostalgia for the Zellers brand, evoking fond memories for some of meals at its diner and Zeddy, its teddy bear mascot.

While the footprint of the new Zellers stores — within the existing Hudson's Bay department stores — does not accommodate a restaurant, the company will have food trucks at some locations offering the top menu items.

The five menu items are the big "Z" burger, hot chicken sandwich, grilled cheese, chicken fingers and fries with gravy. 

The chain's Zeddy mascot — which arguably elicited some of the greatest sentimentality among some former shoppers — is expected to make a return soon, Bourré said.

The mascot was adopted by a charity after Zellers wound down operations, she said. 

"Zeddy has been in active service since Zellers closed," she said. "He's working hard in the background."

The store is hoping to bring Zeddy back into stores soon with a charity component, Bourré said.

Banner image: The comeback of Canadian retail chain Zellers officially kicks off, with the first 12 of 25 planned stores opening in Ontario and Quebec. Zellers store in Quebec City on Thursday, January 13, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2023.

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